2017

Email from Josephene Blake following a self-drive tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields October 2017


Dear James,


This is a rather belated note to say a very big ‘thank you’ for all your detailed help in setting up our trip last month.   You could not have gone to more trouble for us.   We were lucky with perfect sunny dry weather, and it all went very well.   Jacques was excellent, and so nice, and went out of his way to show us where our great uncle spent his last few days.   We also happened to meet Genevra during the day as well.


Your guides were amazing, including meeting the tricky farmer at Serre, who while we were walking along the track not only drove up to check on us 2 or 3 times, but also forced bumper to bumper a mini van to reverse back down! .   We reckoned he did not have much spare time to do any farming!   I must say that the impact of the trip stayed with me for some time after we got back.


I will certainly recommend you to friends in the future, and many thanks again,


Jo Blake


Email from Alan Carver following a self-drive tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields October 2017


Dear James


We thought you might be interested to have some feedback on our short trip.


The travel plans worked well and we were lucky not to have any delays or hold ups. On the return journey we arrived early at Calais and were able to join an earlier departure which was a bonus.


The hotels were fine with the one in Ypres being clearly superior although their evening menu was very restricted and we ate there for one night only. We had a job finding somewhere to eat on Sunday evening in Albert and settled on Hotel de la Paix which was not a huge success and we were weak enough to allow them to serve freezing cold red wine!


Thanks to your detailed guides and an efficient navigator and driver we did not get lost once!  We saw everything we set out to see and more besides although after visiting about 5 museums we found it all a bit repetitive.  Your guides are very detailed and give excellent background to each site visited - in our case perhaps a bit too much detail!  These comments are not really intended as criticisms - more a reflection on the fact that we were on a "sentimental" journey and are not by any means connoisseurs.


Overall one could not fail to to moved by what one saw, read and heard and it was good to see so many English children at the various sites. The interest in the Menin Gate ceremony in particular and WW1 in general after 100 years, was amazing to experience.


With thanks for all your help and arrangements and kind regards from the Carver family.



Email from Glen Lloyd following a self-drive tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields September/October 2017


James,


I just want to say thank you for the great time that my family and I have had on our recent trip to the Somme and Ypres.  Your guides and information were superb.  They were easy to follow and very informative.  The hotels were great and bar Avril’s tea rooms the food was out of this world.  I am wholeheartedly recommending your company to any one I speak too.


Now we have a taste of the battlefields next year will be the WW2 Normandy landings.


Once again thank you so much


Glen Lloyd


Email from Dominic Rooney following a self-drive tour of the Somme battlefields September 2017


Dear James,

 

A belated “thank you” for sending the published material to my hotel in Cork – it was waiting for us on our arrival.

 

The Hotel de la Paix was excellent – the rooms comfortable and well-appointed, the staff endlessly helpful and the food good. I was surprised by so modern an establishment in a small French rural town.

 

Bapaume was also very close to Delville Wood, the most famous WW 1 battle for South African forces. We headed there soon after arriving and it was, as you noted, an eerie place. I collected some of the many acorns scattered on the ground and will plant them here [South Africa].

 

The material you provided was highly informative and I had the sense it has been honed over the years – thank you for the care taken with this.

 

We did drop into Avril Williams’ restaurant for lunch one day; it was a little disappointing although we did arrive on a bad day – the chip-fryer was broken, which removed a good proportion of her menu! Le Tommy in Pozières, despite the rather heavy-handed theming, was better.

 

I came away from the three days with a jumble of thoughts through which I’m still working. I read a while ago that Auschwitz has become almost like a theme-park and I wonder if the same isn’t happening to the WW1 Battlefields – the souvenir shop at Thiepval was jarring although I suppose they need every penny they can collect. Perhaps this is how they will have to survive in the modern age, as the generations affected by the world wars (mine is probably the last) die off.

 

Regards, Dominic Rooney



Email from Antonia Lloyd Owen following a self-drive tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields September 2017


Dear James


I am just writing to thank you very much for organising the excellent tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields for Christopher and myself.


I was very impressed from the outset that you could put together the arrangements for the tour so quickly and efficiently at such short notice and I thank you for putting yourself out just before you were going away yourself.


We thought your choice of hotels in both Albert and Ypres was very good and the journey to and from from Calais went seamlessly.  We ate very well with the exception of the Auberge de la Vallee Ancre where the main course was very disappointing.. but the wine list was exceptional!


More importantly, however, was the excellent self-driving itinerary, which once we had done our homework on using it efficiently, was without fail accurate and enlightening.  Your background work on the history, the battles, the armies, the living conditions of officers and men, the equipment and the horrifying statistics was thorough and very interesting and visiting various museums only served to confirm that which you had already written.


I now feel much more au fait with that period of history and understand what is meant when people refer to the suffering endured by most of the world’s nations over the First World War. 


And the experience begs the question... When will we ever learn?


Thank you very much for a memorable 5 days.


With best wishes


Antonia



Email from Sarah & Richard Musgrave following a self-drive tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields September 2017


Dear James


I just wanted to thank you providing us with such excellent material for our Battlefields trip.  We returned last week and haven't stopped talking about it yet!


The maps and accompanying booklets for both Somme and Ypres areas were superb and kept us right on track.  The only time we overshot anything was in Hamel just outside Albert. where the maize had grown so tall by the time of our visit that it completely obscured the cemetery as we approached, so we had to turn back, park on the roadside and walk to discover what we were looking for.  This was made possible by the clear description you gave of other landmarks in the village.  


In the Somme area, we managed to drive round everything on the route you suggested, visited the museum underneath the Basilica in Albert and also the one in Peronne - both very impressive.  We were particularly moved by a temporary exhibition of art by Otto Dix which displayed the true horror of it all, both real and imagined.  We called in on Avril for coffee and ate far too well at the Hotel de la Basilique!  One of the most moving experiences was our visit to Delville Wood Museum, and Richard found the Mametz Wood area very foreboding.


On our way to Ypres, we stopped at Messines for coffee and visited the Ireland Peace Park and the New Zealand memorial.  We also had a mission to find a grave of a soldier local to us here and stopped at Wijkstaete to locate his resting place in the very peaceful cemetery there.


Whilst in Ypres, we attended the Menin Gate ceremony on Monday when the proceedings were more formal than some, due to an impressive number of wreaths being laid and a marching band also in attendance.  One of the wreaths was laid by Mike Tindall as a group of former rugby players of top quality were on tour playing Rugby for Heroes!  We were so impressed that we attended the following evening as well, although this was a less formal ceremony.  We enjoyed some very good meals in the town and drove around much of your tour before meeting Genevra on our final day.  She really had done a lot of research on our behalf and took us to places where Richard's grandfather had been in action.  She was as fascinated as we were to relive his experience of viewing the countryside through his field glasses which we took with us.  It was a wonderful day made very special by her passion to learn of individuals' experiences.  She has since sent us further information to which we didn't have access and we have exchanged photos. We dropped in on St George's Memorial Church after we parted company and both found that very interesting.


On our return trip to the port, we took in Talbot House in Poperinge (on Genevra's advice) and visited the Lijssenthoek cemetery.


Thank you so much for making our trip so memorable.  We would have missed so much had we not had your guidance.  I shall certainly recommend you to friends and family who may wish to take a similar trip.


Who, knows - I may drop in when we are visiting my brother in Wimborne and meet you in person!


Many thanks once again


Sarah 


Sarah and Richard Musgrave



Email from Suzanne Bevington following a 2 -night self-drive tour of the Ypres battlefields August 2017


Good afternoon James


I just wanted to say what a fabulous weekend Mum & I had.  Ypres was beautiful, its hard to imagine that 100 years ago it was hell on earth.  The Albion Hotel is lovely, very comfortable and the staff were really friendly.


The tour with Wouter was the highlight of the weekend.  What a lovely man he is.  He totally charmed Mum, had her hanging on his every word.  She was so moved being able to see the places where her father served for the whole 4 years of the war.  The stories that Wouter told us and the photos he showed brought it all to life and gave us both especially Mum a clearer understanding as to why her Dad was the way he was, very quiet and detached and always deep in thought.


We managed to get tickets to go into the Dugout at Zonnebeke, mum did really well getting down the steps.  It was amazing to be able to see it. 


We were really emotional being able to lay a poppy at the Menin Gate at the panel commemorating his friends who were lost from his regiment.  It was a very special weekend, one which both of us will remember forever.


Many thanks for organising it for us


Suzanne



Email from Brett Wooldridge following a 4 -night self-drive tour of the Ypres and Somme  battlefields July 2017


James


Just got back to the UK after a fantastic week in France.  My sincere thanks for all your organisation - the whole trip worked like clockwork.  Peter Smith was excellent and I will be sending him a separate note to say thank you.


Many thanks again and I will certainly be recommending you to anyone who enquires about our trip.


Kind regards


Brett Wooldridge



Email from Gordon and Enez Tompsett following a 6-night self-drive tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields July 2017


Hi James,


Got back Sunday night from our tour. We were both very impressed with the whole 6 day excursion. Incredibly well organised, highly detailed notes, directions and info. Even my wife couldn't help but successfully direct me to our next stop! Hotels - very good. Euro-Tunnel very good - beats the ferry!  Definite trip of a lifetime - thank you.


My wife who was at first slightly cautious of the trip thoroughly enjoyed it and was at times very moved. Didn't do every stop but tended to linger longer at some places such as Newfoundland Park, Tyne Cot,Passchendaele Museum, Hills 62 & 60 and Lochnagar crater to name but a few.


Definite advantage of self-drive over coach.


Regards,


Gordon & Enez Tompsett.


Email from David Burnett following a 4-night self-drive tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields July 2017


Hello James,


I just wanted to send you a quick note to say that we had a great trip to Ypres/Somme between 5-12 July. Your itinerary was first rate and created the right balance between the big set piece such as a Tyne Cot or Thiepval and the more unusual corners of the battlefields, many of which were new to me despite having visited both areas a dozen times or more. The whole family really enjoyed the experience and we felt a real connection to the areas and the moments of significance from 1914-18. 


The Ariane was superb as a hotel and we would hurry back. They really did look after us well. Highly recommended! The Royal Picardie was very good also although we suffered a bit on the first night as our room for 3 people was a "traditional" room with no air con and it had been 29 degrees that day! We did move the next morning to a newer room with air con and the staff did look after us so "all's well that ends well" etc. You may know already but they have no restaurant for dinner any longer (breakfast was very good). We used Corners Pub and the Basilique Hotel and both were well-received.


One tip in the itinerary materials might be to warn the casual visitor that if there has been rain then a few areas may be quite muddy and wellies or similar would be useful - Hawthorn Crater was a case in point. I was not popular for leading 3 females into the mud but all part of the experience if you ask me!


The whole experience was superb and I want to thank you on behalf of the family for a truly memorable holiday. It was all the more poignant as we managed to visit the resting places of several former pupils in both Ypres and the Somme. 


Thanks and best wishes


David Burnett


Very nice ‘Poppy’ card from the Clarke family following a Somme and Ypres Self-Drive tour June 2017 (hotels mentioned were the Basilique, Somme, and Ariane, Ypres).

Click to enlarge











Email from Robert Pringle following a 4-night self-drive tour of the Somme and Ypres battlefields June 2017

Hi James

Just to let you know - the trip was excellent. We crammed so much in it was quite tiring, but extremely worthwhile - sometimes poignant, sometimes overwhelming in the scale of the casualties, but always interesting. The museums in Albert and Zonneberg were especially good.

There were lots of school parties there on organised tours, which is encouraging. They seemed enthusiastic even though it's ancient history to them.

The substitution of the Albion Hotel proved excellent - great location, friendly staff, and excellent facilities, with the car parking a real bonus. We've received your kind refund, and I can assure you it went to a good cause, as we found the beer and food in Ypres quite expensive - to be expected around the Grote Markt and the Menin Gate as they are major tourist attractions. Don't know what the issue was with the Ariane Hotel, but your prompt action and excellent substitution saved the day!

The tour literature was impressively comprehensive, so much so that we could cope with splitting the routes in each battlefield over 2 days, choosing where to spend more time and where to skim, and even do some runs in different order when small roads were blocked (roadworks, etc).

The staff at the Royal Picardie were fine, but the restaurant is not open at all for dinner- don't know whether this is temporary or a permanent cost-saving measure. No problem for us as we ate in the centre of Albert, with just the odd drink in the hotel bar. We did get a taxi to and from the centre, which the hotel receptionist organised for us, as my co-traveller had had a replacement knee operation fairly frequently and was saving himself for the tour walks. Other travellers with mobility issues may wish to do the same - it was only 7 euros each way.

Once again, many thanks for your help - we may even go back.

Kind Regards

Robert


Email from Ann Korta following a Somme and Ypres self-drive tour June  2017


Dear James,


Sue and I had a brilliant four days in France/Belgium last week. With Sue driving and me navigating and your excellent instructions we managed on the first day to see the grave of my grandfather’s cousin, William Thomas Brewer in Abbeville. We made an error at first and came off the motorway at Junction 22 instead of 23 but, having had some help from some friendly French workers, who directed us to the centre of the town we found a sign to the cemetery. After that we were a bit lost thanks to the lack of signing on French roads but we made it in the end!

After that we made for Albert and found the Hotel Royal Picardie very easily. We walked into town for a meal and found the excellent Hotel De La Paix which was French cooking at its best. The Hotel Picardie didn’t seem to be offering meals in their restaurant at all so we returned to the Hotel De La Paix the second night for another excellent meal. We spent this second day on the Somme battlefields and followed half of your self-drive guide – we started at 9 am and stopped at 6 pm having had a fascinating first day. We visited many cemeteries and as we turned for Albert on the D929 we found the Pozieres Cemetery where one of the Holt Parish Hall Plaque men is remembered – William Squibb. We found his names on the panel 91. Having read the whole of your book on the Somme now I understand not all the missing are mentioned at Thiepval. We found Ernest Brewer’s name there – he is the brother of William.


On Wednesday , we made for Ypres via Vimy Ridge as Sue’s brother had recommended a visit. We were not disappointed and the Canadians took s down into the tunnels dug out by Welsh and Australian miners. When we reached Ypres we checked into the Hotel Ariane – again, easily found using your directions and then walked the ramparts, in reverse, ending up at the Menin Gate Memorial at 7pm. A very moving ceremony and we had an extra as a student from a Canadian College played the bag pipes after the buglers. All the people there were so friendly.


On the last day we had time to do about aa quarter of the Ypres Salient tour which was very informative and we visited Hill 60, the Caterpillar mine crater  and the Bluff which was beautifully quiet and full of wildlife.


On the way back to Calais we went into Merville and found the grave of my Great-uncle, William John Bleddyn. This was very emotional for me as I have carried out much research on him and have his medals and his photo.


Both Sue and I are very grateful for your help and guidance and organizing of the trip. We enjoyed the trip enormously and  we came back on a high, despite the awful news of Grenfell Tower!

I am continuing to read your books and can still picture the battlefields in my mind.

Thank you very much.


I have one question – do you know if the various regiments or the Imperial War Museum know the names of all the men who fought in the War. I know only 70% of the actual records of the men (not the officers) were destroyed in WWII but I wondered if anyone has the names of all those who fought.


With best wishes,


Ann



Email from Tracey & Gary Leone following a Ypres self-drive tour May  2017


Dear James ,

We wanted to let you know we had a fantastic time recently staying at the lovely Ariane hotel and Ypres. Your attention to detail is amazing , however we did manage to get lost a few times , nothing to do with your instructions , just us going off piste ! 

I discovered Belgium beer , we brought some home with us, and some chocolates . 

My parents thoroughly enjoyed the trip especially my Dad , seeing for himself the land he has read so much about . For all of us the 8pm last post at Menin gate was moving .

Thank you again James for all your help .

Good luck I the future with your company .

Best wishes 

Tracey and Gary 



Email from Kathryn Sargent (Australia) following a Somme and Ypres self-drive tour April 2017


Hi James,


We have returned from our pilgrimage to the Somme and thought we should write to you and say that we had a great time with all the details that you furnished for us.  Very detailed (sometimes a bit too much info for us fledglings) but none the less very thorough and we gleaned a lot out of it all.  The accommodation, Avril Williams Guest House and the Albion Hotel in Ypres were both very good also.


Thanks again James.


Kind regards,


Kathryn



Kathryn Sargent

South Australia



Email from David Bryant (UK) following a Somme and Ypres self-drive tour April 2017


Dear James,


good afternoon.  Just thought I would drop you a quick note following our recent battlefield tour based around Bapaume and Ypres.


All went very well.  The directions and information provided were excellent and made efficient use of our limited time.  In addition to the cemeteries detailed in your guides we stopped at others we encountered whilst driving and without exception found the experience powerful and very moving.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the entire time and of course were able to pay our respects to long past family members.  We may well repeat the experience in the future.


Although there were significant differences in size, both hotels [Hotel de la Paix, Somme, and the Ariane Hotel, Ypres] were brilliant.  We would have no hesitation in staying at either again or recommending you to friends and family.


On a separate matter do you provide a similar service for the Normandy battlefields?


Thank you again for a not to be forgotten experience.


Kind regards


David Bryant   


Email from Martin Dennis following a Somme self-drive tour May 2017

Dear James,

I echo Tim's earlier Email to you. It was a memorable trip.

I enclose one photo for you.

Best wishes.

Martin.









Email from Tim Bennett (UK) following a Somme self-drive tour May 2017

(Mr Bennett is researching a book to be published soon chronicling the fortunes of those men from the village of Overstrand, Norfolk, who fell in the Great War)


THANK YOU VERY MUCH from all of us


James - We are safely back home. Many, many thanks from all of us for arranging such an excellent tour - we have had an amazing 5 days in Ypres and The Somme. We found your tour guides so helpful and informative and they fitted in very well to our 'Overstrand Tour' so we were able to mix and match quite easily.  There were so many locations and 'things to see’ which otherwise we would have missed so easily without your guides. 


Martin [see above - a past client of ours who joined us on two conducted battlefield tours some years ago] of course gave us an excellent running commentary and was able to highlight some of the key features of the battles to give us some context for what we were looking at.


We were able to lay 18 crosses for our Overstrand Boys either at a Memorial or at a headstone. All these moments of remembrance were so special and we took photos of the relevant parts of the book alongside. Thank you for your suggestion about the Last Post Association and the Menin Gate Ceremony - we participated on the Monday evening - it was very moving and a great honour.I will let you have more details of our trip and few photos too later on in the week.


Thanks for the copy of the email from Deborah - the accommodations were brilliant and made the whole week very good.


As a small ‘thank you’ I will ask Poppyland Publishing to send you a complimentary copy of my book.


with very best wishes for us all.


Tim, Jill, Pete and Martin.


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